Tag Archives: gulf of alaska

Bleak runs in 2020

Seward, Alaska Harbor

The numbers are in, although I think most of us in Alaska knew the gist of things: The salmon runs in 2020 fit the overall theme of the year. They were bleak.

King salmon returns were in the bottom five for harvests since the 1960’s. Sockeye returns were the second lowest since 1962. Coho and pinks were better than the other two species, but they were still down. The numbers coming back for the coho, or silver salmon, ranked 48th, pinks ranked 53rd since 1962.

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game is predicting a better return for pink salmon for 2021. Pinks are the only salmon species that Fish & Game forecasts the upcoming return. They are hopeful that Alaska will see an increase in all five species of salmon that return to our waters.

From a personal experience level: For several years now, I have seen a noticeable increase in our group’s salmon harvest in odd years, and a downturn in even years. 2020 fit in with that nonscientific trend, but it was certainly the hardest we worked to fill the freezer in 2020. Luckily, we made up for it with halibut and lingcod.

King salmon are now known to be returning to Alaska waters at a younger age. This means that they are coming back smaller. The factors causing this are still unknown, although increased predation and water temperature are high on the list of suspects. Salmon sharks and orcas certainly take a bite out of the salmon population, and it would be expected that they may gravitate towards the larger salmon, but these predators are hardly new to the Gulf of Alaska and beyond.

I admit that I am hoping for a rebound in the salmon return for 2021.

Fishing for silvers, but catching pinks in Resurrection Bay, Alaska

Both photos were taken in 2019


Closing a fishery

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Collecting Pacific cod samples; Photo in Public Domain, credit to NOAA

For the first time, the federal government has closed the cod fishery in the Gulf of Alaska for the 2020 season.  The reason: Low stock.

The Blob, a marine heatwave that hit the Gulf in 2014 is taking the blunt of the blame.  Ocean temperatures rose 4-5 degrees, with some areas of the Gulf rising by 7 degrees.  The increase in water temperature killed off young cod.

Cod usually return to the fishery after three years or more.  They can live up to 14 years, and tend to reach a weight of 12 pounds.

After the heatwave, cod numbers crashed from 113,830 metric tons in 2014 to 46,080 in 2017.  The numbers have been dropping ever since.

The closing will have a huge effect on the winter economies of places like Homer and Kodiak.  Prior to The Blob, the fishery was a $50 million industry for Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

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“The Blob” in 2014 and 2019; Image credit: NOAA

Unfortunately, the blob’s sequel looks to be heading back to Alaskan waters.  As of September 2019, the water temp of Blob 2 was only two degrees shy of the original.


2018 Earthquake Review


Alaska: 2018 Seismicity; Color coded by depth, Notable events labeled

The Alaska Earthquake Center at the University of Alaska – Fairbanks, has done their annual year in review for 2018. We set a record for earthquakes within the state, with over 55,000 events during 2018. That blows past the previous record of 42,989 set in 2017. The next highest number occurred in 2014 with 40,686 quakes. We had so many earthquakes in 2018 that AEC is still counting to get a specific number.

It needs to be noted, that much of the increase in numbers is due to advancing detection techniques, as well as additional recording stations. The purpose of this post, is not to imply that Alaska is about to break off from the Yukon, but to show how seismically active Alaska is.

The two largest earthquakes have set off thousands of aftershocks. The 7.9 magnitude quake in the Gulf of Alaska was the largest, followed by the now rated 7.1 near Anchorage in November.

We also had a couple of “swarms” in the northern part of the state, in the Brooks Range & on the North Slope, that lasted for months, and accounted for over 17,000 events.

The surprise earthquake of the year, happened near Kaktovik, on Alaska’s north coast. The 6.4 mainshock and 6.0 aftershock, were by far the largest ever recorded north of the Brooks Range.

On Saturday, March 9, a sudden jolt went through the cabin as I worked about the place, while listening to Minnesota hockey swarm the Michigan Wolverines. Sure enough, a 3.7 magnitude quake had occurred roughly 15-20 miles from the cabin.

A very special thanks to the Alaska Earthquake Center for the above graph and earthquake information.